Dinners discuss sexual misconduct

This month, dinner table discussions are not shying away from one of the most controversial topics at Yale this year: sexual misconduct.

Following the release of the fifth semiannual Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct, the Title IX Steering Committee has planned a series of meetings over meals for students who are interested in learning more about the report. According to University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler, the meals are intended to serve as a convenient and informal way for students to meet, question and provide feedback to the authors of the report. Two meetings have taken place so far, and Garrett Fiddler ’11,  a Yale College Dean’s Office fellow, said the committee is considering scheduling an additional meeting if more students express a desire to discuss the report.

“We are eager to hear what is on students’ minds, so there is no fixed agenda, nor are there pre-established questions,” Spangler said in an email. “We will never discuss individual cases, but are otherwise open to discussing a broad range of topics relating to sexual misconduct and Yale’s programs to address and prevent it.”

Though 15 students registered to attend the most recent meeting, held on Tuesday, only four students joined Spangler, University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (UWC) Chair Michael Della Rocca and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90 for dinner in the Morse Fellows Lounge, according to Ahron Singer ’14.

Singer, who was the only undergraduate present, said he was disappointed with the outcome of the conversation, which focused narrowly on the language of the report. The three other students who attended the dinner did not respond to requests for comment, and the dinner was not open to the press.

Dinner discussions regarding sexual misconduct were first introduced during the fall 2013 semester following the release of the fourth report. At the time, administrators faced criticism both from within the University and from national media regarding the content of the report. Critics pointed to an alleged lack of detail in the report and objected to what they viewed to be insufficient punishments for perpetrators of sexual assault.

Spangler said the meals are just one of many student outreach efforts related to sexual misconduct. She cited the expanded Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center website and the Communication and Consent Educators’ recently released videos about the process of filing a complaint with the UWC as examples of other initiatives.

The structure of the most recent report was also redesigned to be more accessible to students, Chief Communications Officer Elizabeth Stauderman said. For example, she said the online version of the report uses hyperlinks to provide definitions for frequently used words such as “consent” and “sexual assault” so that students have a better understanding of how the University defines these terms.

Stauderman said the writers of the report wanted to encourage students, as well as the general public, to read and fully comprehend the report before making comments.

“It’s important to have many opportunities to consider how we can best respond to sexual misconduct on campus — and, better yet, prevent it altogether,” Spangler said in an email.

Out of eight students interviewed — all of whom were either Community and Consent Educators, members of Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale or participants in the Sexual Literacy Forum — none said they had attended or were planning to attend a dinner discussion on sexual misconduct.

According to the report, there were 70 complaints of sexual misconduct between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2013.

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